The Hermitage is a collection of buildings and former palaces that house the second largest collection of art in the world. It’s centered around the Winter Palace and started by Catherine the Great.
I found the wealth, opulence and lavishness of the Winter Palace profoundly uncomfortable. In a society where such profound inequalities existed its really not hard to understand why there was a revolution. Many of the rooms, not surprisingly, have military and imperialist themes which I also had trouble enjoying.
The art museum sections were much more comfortable. Only 6% of the museum’s collection is on display at any time but that tiny fraction is still vast and impressive! Originally the private collection of the czars, the collection also compromises gifts from other governments and is now state managed. The halls are organized by country of origin, including Greece, Egypt and most of Europe. I got a bit of a reputation amongst my team for mimicking the statues and trying to pinch their butts. Who says art has to be quiet and stale?!
My favorite part of the experience was running into a class of Russian grade schoolers. The students were all in costume and there to present “painting reports”. Instead of book reports, each student had prepared a short speech about a piece of artwork and gave it to their classmates. Live, collaborative learning-love it!